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New to Steam Heat

Hello, I am new to steam heat (and home ownership). My house has a one pipe steam heat system with a 2003 Burnham boiler. I have 9 radiators total with 2 on the top floor.

The pipes were originally insulated with asbestos but the previous owner had the insulation removed. I came across some free 2" fiberglass pipe insulation that I used to cover 90% of the pipes in the basement. It probably isn't the best insulation but I'm guessing it's better than nothing.

The pressure gauge on my pressuretol is very low, around or below the 1lb mark. And the low water cut off system works as I hear it come on every once in a while.

I have a fair amount of water hammer that occurs 10-20 minutes after the system fires up, it last for a minute or so. I believe the noise is coming from the pipe that runs to one of the upstairs radiators. I have closed down this radiator as much as possible however it does still warm up when the system is on, but not to the extent it used to. This same radiator would also leak at the knob that opens and closes it.

The radiator in the bathroom has a bad vent or where it connects to the radiator is bad and steam comes out of when the system is running. Basically the vent is about to fall off. I've also tried to turn this radiator off but the control knob won't budge (and I haven't tired to force it).

Some radiators are very quiet and some operate very loudly. For example the upstairs bedroom radiator will build up pressure and then the vent will open up and it will blast out a whistle and then close and repeat.

I've started reading The Lost Art of Steam Heating and it seems like everything I read could be causing the water hammer; from the new boiler installation, pipe insulation and all the other problems mentioned above.

One thing I'd like to get advice on is if I can take the vent from the radiator that is upstairs (and turned off) and use it on the bathroom radiator (with the broken vent).

I had the plumber come in who originally installed the new boiler, $300 later I don't really have any answers, he "blew down" the system removing water from the system but that's about it, he didn't have the right size replacement parts to fix the vent or the other problems mentioned.

Any advice would be appreciated, I'd be happy to take photos/video and post for reference.



  • ed wallaceed wallace Member Posts: 1,613
    new to steam heat

    post pictures and also where are you located
  • mskalininmskalinin Member Posts: 13
    install vent yourself?

    Have you tried buying a replacement vent and installing it yourself? I went to a local hardware store and got a vent, as well as some teflon tape to wrap the threads. I installed it on a radiator that had not been heating, and immediately we had 100% improvement. It still doesn't heat as much as I would like, but I think that is another problem that I haven't figured out yet. Installing the vent was cake.
  • AberagejoemnAberagejoemn Member Posts: 36

    Once I get home I will, anything specific you want to see?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,708
    You mention a radiator

    upstairs which you think might be banging, and that you have turned it off -- presumably with the valve.  Oddly enough, this may well make matters worse!  In one pipe steam, the valves need to be all the way open -- or shut tightly, and I would venture to guess that it is unlikely that an older valve will shut tightly.  This will let some steam in, which will condense -- but the valve won't let it out, and it may well bang or make other unseemly noises as it tries to go one way and the steam the other.  The best way to shut off a radiator (on one pipe steam) is to turn the vent upside down -- this won't let the air out, and therefore the steam can't get in.

    Might help.

    But there are other reasons for late cycle banging.  Most of them are talked about in The Lost Art -- so keep on reading!

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • AberagejoemnAberagejoemn Member Posts: 36

    So I tried to take the vent off but it's snapped, tried WD-40 as well, no luck. Any suggestions?
  • AberagejoemnAberagejoemn Member Posts: 36
    I should clarify

    I should clarify, it was already snapped when I tried to take it off.
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    easy out or a tap and some bits

    With a little penetrating oil and some careful persuasion you should be able to back that stub out, try not to get to violent so it doesn't snap off. If it does snap off you can try an easy out and if that doesn't work a 1/4" pipe tap with some drill nits to walk up to the proper size bit for that tap.

    Once you get the old one out you can just screw another vent in and you should be good to go.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • AberagejoemnAberagejoemn Member Posts: 36

    In the mean time, is this going to hurt anything to leave the old vent on?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,708
    Do I presume

    that you have some way of holding that old vent to the radiator reasonably tightly?  Or some other way of plugging that vent hole?  If you don't, you shouldn't run the system -- if live steam gets to the radiator and starts coming out that vent hole, it can burn very badly if someone gets in the way of it.  Not to mention removing all the wallpaper, raising havoc with the drywall, and sundry other nuisances of that sort...

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Member Posts: 1,939
    just remove the stub

    Just grip the stub sticking out with a channel lock and it'll come out. Happens all the time with old vents that haven't been touched in decades. You can't run the heat like that.  You'll have steam pouring out of there.
  • AberagejoemnAberagejoemn Member Posts: 36
    So far so good

    Obviously I'm new to the world of plumbing, but I have a big pipe wrench and after talking with a co-worker he straightened me out. So I wrapped that big red wrench around the last of the old vent and it unscrewed easily.

    With some teflon tape the new vent is on and after firing up the heat it is venting correctly and the radiator is heating up nicely. While I was at it I checked the level of the radiator and added a shim to the bottom.

    If you'll notice the old vent had a curved tube that fed into the radiator, is this something my new vent needs?

    This new vent is a $9 mist maid vent from Home Depot, I can't imagine this is the world's greatest vent but it works a hell of a lot better than a broken one. I'm thinking I'll replace a few other vents that are whistling or might be stuck, can anyone give a recommendation on which model? The alternative to that would be a warm vinegar bath from what I've read.

    Thanks for all the help, and if I missed something please let me know.
  • AberagejoemnAberagejoemn Member Posts: 36

    With one problem fixed another one worsened; the valve from the floor to the radiator is leaking more than it did before and somewhere I can hear steam escaping. Does this look like a standard valve that I can replace? I did see replacement valves at HomeDepot...
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    Exactly where is the leak?

    If it's where the shaft comes out of the valve you might just have to tighten the packing nut or you might have to put some new packing under that nut WHEN the boiler is off and the valve has cooled down. hardware stores sell packing.

    If it's coming out of the large nut you can carefully tighten that nut after being syre the valve and radiator are aligned.

    You do not want to replace that valve unless you really have to because it is NOT an easy job, especially during the heating season.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Member Posts: 1,939
    valve leak

    Looks like it's leaking (or was leaking) from the union.  Looks like steam has caused some rust debris on the bottom of the union and looks like someone has already tried tightening it.  Be careful you don't overtighten this nut cause it's brass.  Check the bonnet and the packing for any possibility of getting tightened up.
  • AberagejoemnAberagejoemn Member Posts: 36

    I'm not sure what is what, I've listed the nuts/areas I could tighten, can someone help me label them?

    And by the way, I paid $300 to have a plumber come in check the boiler and give me a quote on fixing some of this. He said he didn't have any replacement vents for the one I just fixed and I think he tried to tighten some of these areas (hence the markings).
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Member Posts: 1,939

    I've added a #5 to your picture.

    1 - packing nut

    2 - Union

    3 - reducing bushing

    4 - valve

    5 - bonnet

    I'm guessing it's leaking from #2. You'll need a second person to "wobble" the radiator towards and away from the wall just a bit to help seat the union to the valve.  I'm thinking you might have to replace that valve, which is not something someone inexperienced would want to try during heating season. If it's not dripping too much, put a pan under there to catch some of the dripping and wait till spring to replace the valve if tightening the union nut doesn't help.  Also check the packing nut and the bonnet, but my money is on the union leaking. It almost seems from the picture that the radiator is tilted up too much and the union isn't seated properly.
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Member Posts: 1,939
    forgot the pic

    oops.. forgot the pic
    union nut

    The leak appears to be from #2. The radiator does appear to be over pitched Hence the two sides off the union are not lined up properly. Are you sure that you need that much pitch? A very slight pitch toward the pipe is adequate. With the heat off you can try to undo the union nut, line the two sides up properly and retighten the nut. You may need two people. These rads are HEAVY!
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